Monday, August 8, 2016

On "Prodigals" by Greg Jackson *****

Jackson's language is beautiful but a tad difficult (his stories aren't quick beach reads that roll easily across the eye; you have to do a bit of sentence parsing and pay attention--but luckily, there's enough beauty that you want to pay attention). It is the language itself, I figure, that has led to his publication in various big-name journals. The stories themselves are often a bit light on plot.

Such is certainly the case with the first tale, "Wagner in the Desert," which recounts events among friends and involves much in the way of drugs, a theme that will be returned to at the end of the collection. "Serve-and-Volley, Near Vichy" also involves friends, but this time the focus is clearer--on a couple and a tennis star family.

"Epithalamium" rehearses the story of a soon-to-be-divorced woman who shows up at her vacation cabin to find another woman, much younger, already there. The soon-to-be ex has rented out the cabin for charity. Angry at first, the woman continues to live with the charity winner, finding herself more and more drawn to the companionship the younger woman offers. In the process, the divorcee begins to reveal--perhaps, see--parts of herself that are perhaps not so healthy.

"Dynamics in the Storm" is one of the best stories I've read all year, pulling off a very difficult trick that had me scratching my head and rereading the piece.

One of the weaker stories, "Amy's Conversations" recounts the tale of a close friend's encounters with Amy, as she moves from conventional faith to activism to the seemingly banal existence that we all desire to lead.

"Tanner's Sisters" manages to be as mesmerizing as the conversation it recounts--namely that of a man who has been through a relationship that has changed his view of the world. The story's conclusions, unfortunately, are not nearly as bold or transcendent as the tale itself, one in which a man falls first for one sister and then for another, one beautiful and amusing, the other sad and profound.

"Summer 1984" and "Metanarrative Breakdown" move into the subject of storytelling itself. The latter tale returns to some of the drug themes of the opening story--and also to the seeming lack of plot. The narrator is at a wedding when he gets word that his grandfather is dying. After catching a plane to the grandpop's residence, he has a conversation with his cousin Misty, a woman who takes up new pursuits every year or so and drops them before much is accomplished. This conversation involves him recounting another conversation with a woman named Gaby, a conversation that involves them taking mushrooms and other drugs and that in turn brings them into contact with a car impounder, who then tells them a story. Hence, we have stories within stories within stories, which are all brought back to the frame story by the end. This story dives deep into theory, and if it weren't for the interesting characters and their interesting manner of talking, I'd have lost interest. Instead, I found myself pulled forward despite myself. And it is this, this ability to make me want to read more that makes Greg Jackson's book such a pleasurable read.

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